Ethical consumerism : everyday negotiations in the construction of an ethical self
Despite market research findings which assert that up to 90% of all consumers believe that ethical issues are an important consideration when purchasing products, estimates of the number of people consuming ethically with any regularity remain at around 1%. The aim of this thesis is to look at the lives and purchases of committed ethical consumers to show the complexities inherent in ethical consumerism which determine this elusive nature of ethical consumption. A series of interviews were held with ethical consumers: the first interview concentrated on the consumer's beliefs, values and biographies; the second interview took place in the consumer's home and examined contents of their food cupboards and bathrooms, as well as their cleaning products. This allowed analysis of the stories that the consumers tell about their reasons for becoming an ethical consumer, an examination of the individual's construction of an appropriate ethical position, and a questioning of the consumer's capacity and willingness to follow through their ethics in practice. At a theoretical level the thesis is situated within contemporary theories of consumption, but includes insights from social psychology and moral philosophy to allow the study of consumption to be informed by theories of ethics and action. Notions of identity and lifestyle construction have been applied and extended to enable an understanding of the consumer as an ethical self, with complex relationships to fluidity and consistency. Findings about the differences between ethics and action have highlighted the roles of pleasure, health, money, convenience, love and graciousness in consumption, whereas changes in behaviour in different mileux reveal the effect of structural and social barriers to ethical consumerism. The thesis concludes with a suggestion of the most appropriate form for geographical knowledge to take in any attempt to reunite production and consumption through a geography of commodities.